Weird Science: Great SF Games | Games, Gamers, & Gaming

halo4062414 Weird Science: Great SF Games | Games, Gamers, & GamingScience fiction (sf) is one of the most engaging, thought-provoking, and beloved genres of books, film, and comics. Some of the best games have a strong sf narrative element, and among your patrons there is huge crossover appeal, as someone who loves sf books tends to love similar works from other artistic media. It’s a good idea to stock your circulating collection and load your gaming PCs with some greats of the genre.

If you’re going to try to pin the origin of sf video games anywhere, it would probably have to be with Space Invaders; one of the earliest arcade video games, it is a beloved classic, with its iconic alien characters being symbols of gamer and geek culture everywhere. Unfortunately, to experience fully this deceptively simple and endlessly challenging shooter in its purest form, you’ll need to find an arcade cabinet. (Justin Hoenke set up a Ms. Pac-Man machine at Chattanooga Public Library, so why not Space Invaders at yours?)

The latest and greatest

If you’re limited to more recent, in-­demand titles, however, there’s still a nearly endless selection to offer your patrons. Most sf games are first-person shooters and role-playing games, so patrons interested in these gameplay genres are likely big sf fans.

Microsoft’s “Halo” series features a story about a war between humanity and an alliance of alien races known as the Covenant that has stirring parallels between real-world conflicts. The “Halo” series is notable for being the first first-person shooter since Goldeneye to work (in terms of control and playability) on consoles. What’s more, it has a multiplayer mode that is consistently excellent, with fast-paced action played out on near-perfect maps. The fourth game met with mixed reviews, but the initial three entries and their numerous spin-offs (including the strategy game Halo Wars) are all excellent picks for the Xbox and Xbox 360.

You definitely need to have all three games in the “Mass Effect” series available to your patrons. Player character Commander Shepard is completely customizable, despite the standard male military figure that stands in for the character in most promotional material. He is tasked with leading an elite crew across the cosmos to fight an ancient alien force and solve mysteries as old as time itself. The game is heavy on action but has a rich universe and well-developed story. This series is unique in that as players progress through the trilogy, their accumulated action affects what happens in future play.

The “Assassin’s Creed” titles may have the flavor of historical fiction, but, at its heart, it’s a sprawling sf epic. Playing on the concept that memories of one’s ancestors are encoded in one’s genes, the game has some fun with justifying video game staples (such as the health bar) by giving in-story technological explanations.

Portal is one of the most popular and best games ever made, and one that you’ve probably heard of before. Using a portal gun, the player character must solve physics-based puzzles by warping time and space. Each level is satisfying and challenging, with perfect scaffolding from one obstacle to the other, and despite only featuring one actual human, the cast of characters is brilliant and fun. Its sequel is also exceptional.

System Shock 2 is famous for converging numerous gameplay and narrative genres into one fascinating and engrossing package, providing the chills and scares of a horror game in an sf setting with the action of a first-person shooter and the depth of character development of a role-playing game. After much fan demand, it has finally been rereleased for the PC through Steam and Good Old Games, but it is not available on consoles. At the very least, it’s worth recommending to patrons as a game they try on their own.

The “Half-Life” series was a revelation of gameplay merging with narrative. Heralded for its brilliant design, intense action, highly developed AI, and the way it tells the story through gameplay, the original stands as a hallmark of immersion and execution. The second game upped the ante with an even more interactive environment, more exacting combat, larger levels, vehicles, and the physics-based “Gravity Gun.” Ending on a cliffhanger, this entry was followed by two shorter games marketed as “episodes” that finished its story. The third series installment should be available any day now.

Get on board

There’s no shortage of sf board games either, especially for fans of sf movies. Fantasy Flight Games has recently published both a Star Wars card game and a miniature tabletop game. The miniature game is especially appealing, as players maneuver their own starships—all of which are in the canon—in fast-paced dogfights. Android: Netrunner (LJ 9/15/13) is a mind-warping card game built on the concept of network security set in a gritty cyberpunk universe.

Sf games, both video and tabletop, continue to become more popular, and the market is responding by developing more titles. There’s no limit to just how many excellent such games you can stock on your shelves. Until next month, keep telling yourself, just one more level!

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M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins (mbrandon.robbins@gmail.com) is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.

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